One of Middletown's most decorated World War II veterans dies

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio -- One of Middletown’s most decorated World War II veterans died Monday at the Hospice Care of Butler & Warren Counties.

Bill Wilch, who received the Purple Heart Medal, Bronze Star Medal and the Knight of the Legion of Honor medal, the highest honor that France can bestow upon a person, died after a lengthy illness, his son told The Journal-News.

He was 92.

“He wanted to go,” said Steve Wilch, one of six children. “He said before he died he wanted to taste beer one more time.”

So on Monday, two members of Team Fastrax, the Middletown-based skydiving team, visited him at hospice and poured a beer into a sponge and put it to his lips. His father responded for the first time in days, his son said.

Arrangements are being handled by Herr-Riggs Funeral Home on South Main Street but are not yet complete, his son said. His father will be cremated, Wilch said.

Members of Team Fastrax are expected to participate in the funeral, Wilch said. They will fly over during the funeral, he said. Wilch and the skydivers formed as friendship over the years. He often visited them at the airport and they performed some landscaping duties at his Middletown home.

“He’s just an awesome guy,” John Hart, owner of Team Fastrax, once said. “We fell in love with him. He just has one of those personalities. He changed our lives, now in a small way, we hope to change his.”

Wilch said he will miss his father’s friendship and humor. After his father watched the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” an epic war drama film set during the Invasion of Normandy in World War II, he opened up about his war experience and became “a different man,” his son said.

Then he added: “He blossomed in life.”

His father frequently was called “a hero,” a label he refused to wear.

“I’m not the hero,” Bill Wilch often said.

To that, his son told him: “You’re telling the stories of the men. You are the messenger, the communicator.”

The Journal-News is a news partner of WCPO.

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